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Historic Wilmington Foundation director steps down from role

Jamey Cross
Wilmington StarNews
Travis Gilbert announced he would be stepping down as the executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation during a news conference on Friday, June 7, 2024, at the historic Dudley Mansion in downtown Wilmington.

After three and a half years at the helm, Travis Gilbert will step down from his role at the helm of the Historic Wilmington Foundation.

According to a news release on Friday, Gilbert will leave his post as the eighth executive director of the 57-year-old organization to serve as Director of Philanthropy for the Old Baldy Foundation, the nonprofit organization that preserves North Carolina中出少妇视频檚 oldest-standing lighthouse as a historic site.

"I've learned so much about myself and our community through service as executive director," Gilbert said Friday. "Although I've made a number of errors along the way, I hope that my time as executive director is remembered by the care and the attention, the passion and the scholarship that I've poured into this role."

During his tenure, the Wilmington City Council adopted two new local landmarks in the Giblem Lodge and Dr. Hubert Eaton House. Gilbert was instrumental in the introduction of several new walking tours, and he authored dozens of historic plaques during his time as executive director. Leading the foundation's Tar Heels Go Walking field trip program for third graders in New Hanover County Public Schools was another highlight of the role, Gilbert said.

Isabelle Shepherd was announced as the interim executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation during a news conference on Friday, June 7, 2024, at the historic Dudley Mansion in downtown Wilmington. She will succeed outgoing executive director Travis Gilbert (right) in the interim.

The Historic Wilmington Foundation's Board of Trustees appointed Isabelle Shepherd as interim executive director upon their acceptance of Gilbert's resignation at their June 6 meeting. The transition was announced during a news conference on Friday at the historic Dudley Mansion in downtown Wilmington.

Shepherd previously served as the foundation's development officer.

"As the lower Cape Fear region grows, our mission is as relevant now as it was at our founding in 1966, and we are stronger than ever," Shepherd said. "Thanks to our team, preservation always has a seat at the table as the future of our city and region is shaped for generations to come."

Stepping away from the role, Gilbert offered his thoughts on what he sees as the two threats to historic preservation in the city: the anticipated replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and sea-level rise.

Gilbert has been outspoken about his opposition to the replacement of the vertical-lift bridge with a 135-foot fixed bridge and the "destruction" he says it could cause in the Wilmington Historic District. His advocacy efforts in this area, and others such as the conservation of Eagles Island and Point Peter, have sparked community conversations and compromise.

Shepherd said the foundation will "remain firm in our commitment to support new infrastructure while protecting our historic, cultural and natural resources."

Gilbert took over as executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation in 2021 at just 27 years old, making history himself as the organization's youngest leader. It was a transitional time for the nonprofit organization, whose mission to "preserve and protect the irreplaceable historic resources of Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear region" became even more pivotal following some unprecedented years that brought destructive hurricanes, a global pandemic and a nation reckoning with its past.

Stephanie Bolton, president of the Historic Wilmington Foundation Board of Trustees, announced the foundation's plan to find a new director during a news conference on Friday, June 7, 2024, at the historic Dudley Mansion in downtown Wilmington.

In 2022, Gilbert was honored as one of Wilmington's 40 under 40, an award presented by the StarNews and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce to recognize those in Wilmington who are helping the Cape Fear region prosper.

While Shepherd serves as the foundation's interim executive director, a trustee-appointed search committee will facilitate the process of identifying a new leader. Stephanie Bolton, president of the foundation's Board of Trustees, said the search process will begin immediately and is anticipated to take around three months.

Reach reporter Jamey Cross at jbcross@gannett.com.